A Player’s Solution For World Cup Corruption

The World Cup of football (i.e. soccer in the United States) kicked off in Brazil this past week, with the host team defeating Croatia in a rousing match.

How rousing? Well, the crowd inside the main stadium rooted lustily for the home team. And concurrently, social protestors throughout the nation continued their boisterous (and, at times, violent) demonstrations against government expenditures on the event.

Brazil, an emerging nation, has spent over $11 billion on facilities and supporting functions for the World Cup, monies that the protestors believe could have been more appropriately spent on hospitals, schools, and other socially responsible investments. At times, the vociferous protests reportedly threatened the stability of President Dilma Rousseff’s national government.

Feeding the discontent was the emerging news of a bribery scandal involving the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Many players and fans are dreading the arrival of that event, which will require summer matches to be staged in the 122 degree Fahrenheit (50 degree Celsius) heat of the Arabian Desert.

Many believed that FIFA officials took a “bold gamble” when that event was first awarded to Qatar. Last week, news of lavish gifts and other expenditures bestowed on FIFA football federation representatives were revealed in the global press; they provided an alternative explanation for the designation of Qatar by FIFA officials.

Considering New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to even offer a proposal to stage an upcoming Olympic Games, and given the dismal history of corruption at the International Olympic Committee, one cannot help but wonder whether all such international competitions have become far too bloated and too immersed in corporatism and global politics.

In fact, one wonders what might occur if future football players simply organize themselves and sell admission tickets and television rights to their own matches. Could they avoid the problems that are now being faced by their owners and governing bodies? And has such a “Player’s Solution” ever been attempted in a professional or amateur sports venue?

One needs to look back more than a century for such a solution. In 1890, during the emergence of the union movement in the United States and the socialism movement around the globe, approximately two thirds of the baseball players in America’s National League formed an entity known as the Players League.

Star player (and future Hall of Famer) John Montgomery Ward led the Players League. A graduate of Columbia Law School, Ward developed a complex team structure that provided each player with a profit sharing benefit and allowed private investors to share in the earnings by financing the operational and capital needs of the teams.

The Players League succeeded in drawing fan support from its established rivals, but the privately owned teams hired replacement players and worked to undermine its new competitor. Because anti-trust law in the United States was only first introduced in 1890 with the Sherman Act, the National League owners could engage in a number of anti-competitive activities that would later be ruled illegal.

So, regrettably, the Players League collapsed after a single season. Nevertheless, with anti-trust laws in place throughout today’s global economy, could a similar approach prevent the corruption scandals that are now tainting the world’s most prestigious sporting events?

We may never learn the answer to that question. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to recall the recent on-court protest of the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association. By engaging in the protest and then raising the possibility of a player’s boycott, the players compelled League Commissioner Adam Silver to expel their racist owner Donald Sterling from the team and the game.

Might the world’s greatest football players possess similar collective power in regards to the expulsion of corruption from The Beautiful Game?